How ALP’s Story Began
The African Library Project (ALP) was founded in 2005 by Chris Bradshaw and her family from Portola Valley, California. While her family were visiting remote villages in Lesotho, fondly known as the Mountain Kingdom, Chris found inspiration for ALP. Her curiosity about libraries in Lesotho was piqued through her son’s reading habit. Even while pony-trekking she noticed her son managing to read during their journey.
When Chris asked about nearby libraries, the pony trekking guide’s response was not what she expected. To her surprise, the guide exclaimed that he only knew of one public library that was in the capital city, Maseru. Concerned with the obvious challenges of accessibility to books and libraries, Chris continued to inquire about libraries in Lesotho. She went on to learn that there was a significant interest in books and reading, but getting access to books was a challenge.
“ When I returned to the village where we rented our horses, the head man told me they had always wanted a library but didn’t know how to get books. There was no place to buy books in Lesotho and the cost was prohibitive in nearby South Africa.”
Chris thought that if she could help bring books into Lesotho and if someone in the country could take the books to create and manage a library, that this effort could bring hope and make an impact to alleviate poverty and illiteracy. So, Chris made an agreement to help send books if the creation and management of the library could be taken care of by someone in the country. About six months later, Chris received news that the library building (pictured right is the original building) was nearly complete, so she collected and shipped the books. This quickly led to her reaching out to local schools to help with the process and was encouraged by their enthusiasm for helping and realized she could go from being a book drive organizer to organizing a nonprofit. In that first year, five libraries were created in Lesotho. And since then, ALP has created, improved, or sustained nearly 4,000 other small libraries in schools and communities across 13 countries in Sub Saharan Africa.
ALP’s emphasis on the need for a designated staff member (librarian) to manage a library’s operations was a component to our requirements from the beginning. The first library’s librarian was coincidentally a retired librarian, Maryann Eiseman (pictured left). Maryann, a Peace Corps Volunteer, has helped start five other libraries in the Malealea Valley in Lesotho.
Meet the Founder
Chris Noel Bradshaw spent her junior year at Fourah Bay College, part of the University of Sierra Leone, studying African religion, law, and literature. She traveled alone through western and central Africa, acquainting herself with African traditions and seeing firsthand the conditions African people endured. She found herself deeply affected and frustrated by the pervasive poverty. Fast-forward to 2004, Chris took her family to Lesotho on a vacation that would change her life. On a pony trekking trip, she watched her son devouring a book and asked their guide if there were any libraries in the country. When he said there might be one in the capital, Chris’ life suddenly took a new direction. “At 21 I didn’t know what I could to do help,” Chris said. “At 54, I had the resources to be able to do something.” That something was the African Library Project.
Check out these interviews with Chris Bradshaw to learn more about ALP’s Story and Beginnings
View photo albums and more!
- 2022: Virtual Sessions (Watch Malawi Session | Watch Kenya Recorded Session)
- 2020: 7th Biennial Summit took place in Lesotho (view photo album)
- 2017: 6th Biennial Summit took place in Botswana (read the blog post)
- 2015: 5th Biennial Summit took place in Ghana (view photo album)
- 2013: 4th Biennial Summit took place in Malawi (view photo album)
- 2011: 3rd Biennial Summit took place in Eswantini (view photo album)
- 2009: 2nd Biennial Summit took place in Lesotho (view photo album)
- 2008: 1st Biennial Summit took place in Botswana (view photo album)
2022 Virtual sessions
Due to COVID-19 policies and enforced travel restrictions, the 2022 Summit was held virtually as two mini sessions. This allowed us to invite everyone who supports our work to join. Although the virtual sessions do not come close to replacing the power of an actual in-person gathering, they did allow for our community to hear from our Malawi and Kenyan Partners to present about their country and best practices for their work. There was also time for an open dialogue for the entire community.